Houston, We Have a PR Problem
January 27, 2020
The Houston Astros were one of the most dominant defensive teams in baseball the last two years, but they’ve committed a gallery of errors off the field this offseason.
A national story at this point, Houston “allegedly” set up TV monitors in the tunnel at Minute Maid Park, where players and coaches watched a video feed from a camera perched in center field. Players would then decipher signals from the opposing catchers, notifying Astro hitters about what pitch was coming by banging a garbage can in the dugout.
In hindsight, the bravado might be most appalling. Videos have been widely circulated of the banging. Like here. And here. And here. The evidence continued to mount, and the Houston Astros PR department had a full-blown crisis on its hand.
The crime was committed. And the organization – the current pride of baseball and the subject of Astroball, a book examining how the Astros went from a band of misfits to champions – was caught red-handed. A slew of current players – mostly opposing pitchers – came out and expressed outrage. The sanctity of the game was in question, and Houston was being likened to the steroid scandal and Black Sox.
That’s when the Astros really messed up.
Learning nothing from the hundreds of other brands who continue to bungle crisis situations, the Astros went on the defensive and refused to address the allegations.
All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve took the cocky approach, saying “Believe me, at the end of the year, everything will be fine. We’re gonna be in the World Series again.”
All-Star game MVP Alex Bregman deflected, saying “The Commissioner came out with a report, MLB did their report, and the Astros did what they did. They made their decision on what they’re going to do.”What they did was suspend the Astros General Manager and Manager (both since fired by the organization). And the ramifications were felt on other teams, as former Astros Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran, employed by the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets, respectively, both lost their jobs as a result of the scandal.
In just one offseason, the Astros have gone from the class of baseball to the scourge of the league. But they have achieved giving us another chance to dust off the Rules of Crisis Comms:
- Be Accountable
- Be Proactive
- Be Ready for Backlash
- Be Consistent
- Be Human
- Be Contrite
Nobody is perfect. In baseball, failing 70% of the time as a hitter will get you into the Hall of Fame. The sports world is a forgiving bunch, and today’s news cycle has ADHD. Mark McGuire was hired as a hitting coach in St. Louis just a few years after he was popped for steroids and probably hasn’t paid for a Budweiser in a St. Louis bar in years. By digging in their heels, Houston became the villain and a case study for how not to handle a crisis.